Years after the U.S. launched an automated Homeland Security system essential to keeping the nation safe, it’s a malfunctioning flop that’s so far swallowed a mind-boggling $1.7 billion and needs an additional billion and several more years to perhaps get it to work. That’s not even the best part. A number of federal audits have documented the serious problems with this costly failure in the last few years and officials at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have simply ignored the government investigators’ findings and recommendations.
The program is known as Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) and was launched by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the DHS agency that oversees lawful immigration to the country, in 2012. It was supposed to improve the current method of processing forms for benefits, visas and refugee requests at USCIS, which has more than 5 million people on visa waiting lists.
In its latest report highlighting the serious flaws with ELIS, the DHS Inspector General attaches a letter to USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez blasting his agency for blowing off all of the watchdog’s past investigations. “This is our sixth review of a deeply troubled program which has, over its life, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars,” DHS IG John Roth tells Rodriguez. “In the course of our audit work, and that of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), USCIS has continually minimized the shortcomings of the program and resisted independent oversight.”
In fact, the agency watchdog writes that he’s “perplexed at USCIS’s non-concurrence,” which he points out is not rational, is contrary to department policy and suggests continued effort to promote disagreement rather than collaboration towards the shared goal of bolstering effectiveness and efficiency in agency operations.
Despite this blatant negligence, the cash hasn’t stopped rolling and now DHS claims it needs another three years and an additional $1 billion if there’s any chance of getting ELIS to work properly. In its current form, the automated system “lacks critical functionality,” isn’t “user-friendly,” and has “significant performance problems” processing cases, according to investigators. Until the agency makes all the needed improvements—and there are many—it will be unable to meet its national security goals, the IG report affirms.
ELIS has been a disaster from its inception yet continues to get taxpayer dollars. It started with a $536,000 contract that quickly ballooned before authorities admitted it was a failure. It was supposed to improve the current, outdated method of processing forms for benefits, visas and refugee requests at USCIS. Instead, the pricey system drastically slows the process down.
Past audits have documented that ELIS requires federal workers to dedicate twice as much time to each application, completely defeating the purpose. “The electronic immigration system was supposed to provide a more efficient and higher quality adjudication process,” according to a 2014 DHS IG report. “However, instead of improved efficiency, time studies conducted by service centers show that adjudicating on paper is at least two times faster than adjudicating in ELIS.”
Since it was created by Congress to protect the nation from terrorism after the 9/11 attacks, DHS has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on all sorts of outrageous experiments that have failed miserably. Among them is a highly touted system that was supposed to spot terrorists at airports. It was called Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) and it burned through a ghastly $878 million in six years before the agency finally pulled the plug last year because it proved repeatedly to be useless. American taxpayers also got fleeced by a faulty DHS system, known as BioWatch, that was supposed to detect biological attacks.
That brilliant initiative sucked up an eye-popping $1 billion over a decade before officials finally admitted it didn’t work. The agency had promoted it as a life-saving technology that would detect pathogens that cause anthrax, tularemia, smallpox, plague and other deadly diseases. Instead it became famous for false alarms and other glitches. Nevertheless, DHS wants Congress to pour more money into it to fix the glitches.